FringeReview UK 2016
Come in. Sit down. Explore. Imagination and memory collide to reveal that the everyday world is not as solid as it might seem A House Repeated is an interactive performance-game combining the simplicity of bare-bones storytelling with the limitless possibilities of contemporary open-world computer games. Two performers stand on a bare stage and describe another, imaginary place. By giving instructions like Go North or Pick up the lamp, the audience works together to navigate through the described space, overcoming obstacles and exploring this other world without leaving their seats. Occasionally breaking into lyrical passages describing places from myth and memory, the performers eventually invite the audience to build a new world for all to explore together.
A House Repeated is a fascinating theatre experiment that is like being placed inside a live text adventure computer game.
What this means in effect is that the audience have to work together to navigate an imaginary house, described to us by the performers, and uncover the mysteries it has to reveal. A clever twist is that the audience are divided into two teams who are exploring different parts of the same house, until we finally work out the trick that allows us to ‘meet up’ with each other.
At the start, the performers (Seth Kriebel and Zoe Boras) explain simply how the game works and ask the audience to talk to each other and help each other decide what to do. This strikes fear into the heart of many audience members who avert their eyes from any stranger-contact. However such is the engaging nature of the piece that within minutes the audience are animatedly shouting suggestions at each other about which direction to take or how to explore a certain room (all of which are of course entirely imaginary.)
It is a very unique way of playing with theatrical form, most definitely a performance, but one that is nothing without the participation of the audience. There is also the lovely element of the audience using their collective intelligence to try and solve the various puzzles dotted throughout the piece. It is so pleasing when the audience whoops and applauds as the other team discover a hidden room, and the format of the show means that no one can escape becoming involved.
There were moments throughout when the performers broke into slightly poetic descriptions of other places or times, which didn’t quite work for me. It was a nice idea to have something more than just the game, but something about the delivery and content of these passages felt a bit jarring and out of place.
For those unfamiliar with the format of these text adventure games popular in the 1990s A House Repeated will resonate differently, but no less enjoyably. Having played these games a lot as a child, I was able to appreciate many of the funny turns of phrase present in the games that the performers readily trotted out in the straight faced tone of an inanimate machine. The friends I came with who had no idea these games existed had a different experience, which perhaps felt even more innovative and was in no way hampered by missing the odd cultural reference.
This was a truly delightful show; clever, different and funny, and I would be fascinated to see it again with a different audience (keeping quiet about the secrets of course!) It ends with a pleasing twist, where we are invited to create the last few rooms of the house ourselves. A gentle collective improvisation, we end up in a room of turf with a phone ringing and only a torture chamber up ahead… Hmm.